The Role of Elementary Mathematics Specialists in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics
A Call for Elementary Mathematics Specialists in Support of High-Quality Teaching and Learning of Mathematics
This updated joint position of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE), the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics (ASSM), NCSM: Leadership in Mathematics Education (NCSM) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) calls for
elementary mathematics specialists to help ensure equitable and effective mathematics learning for each and every student.
AMTE, ASSM, NCSM, and NCTM strongly recommend using Elementary Mathematics Specialists (EMSs) in PK–6 environments to enhance the planning, teaching, learning, and assessment of mathematics. We further advocate that every elementary school has access to an
EMS professional. We know that elementary mathematics specialists positively affect student achievement, particularly when they have completed specialized preparation and have sufficient time to interact with teachers. Mathematics teacher educators in school districts, state/province
departments of education, and institutes of higher education should collaborate in providing initial preparation programs and ongoing support for elementary mathematics specialists. This includes continuing to increase access to rigorous programs and certification. Those serving as
elementary mathematics specialist professionals should be expected to have a deep and broad knowledge of mathematics content, expertise in using and helping others use effective instructional practices, and the ability to support efforts that help all PK–6 students learn important
mathematics. Programs established by colleges and universities, state/province departments of education, or school districts to prepare and provide continuing support for elementary mathematics specialist professionals should include an overarching attention to access and equity
with specific foci on mathematics content, pedagogy, and leadership knowledge and skills.
The Value of Elementary Mathematics Specialists
A challenge in most elementary schools is to provide students with the opportunity to make sense of problems and deeply engage with mathematics content; share, listen to, understand, and respond to the ideas of others; and build new learning by drawing on prior experiences from their lives, both
in and out of school. This challenge is addressed when teachers have a positive mathematics identity, strong content and pedagogical knowledge, a deep understanding of how students learn mathematics, and a belief that all students are capable of learning mathematics at high levels.
Elementary mathematics specialists can help address these challenges through their focus on a school or school district’s mathematics program improvement. They model and provide the necessary support for teachers’ use of the effective and equitable teaching practices1, 2 known to make a difference for students engaging deeply with both the mathematics content and mathematical practices
and processes.3 Elementary mathematics specialists directly or indirectly support each and every student as they develop deep mathematical understanding; engage in reasoning, problem solving, and sense making; and form a positive math identity and strong sense of agency.
Research studies at the elementary and middle school levels indicate that the efforts of EMSs positively affect student achievement in mathematics.2, 3 Note that studies of greater duration indicate that significant impact on student mathematics achievement is related to both the experience
of elementary mathematics specialists and sufficient time for them to interact with teachers.4–7 Elementary mathematics specialist professionals influence mathematics learning and teaching due to their unique positions within their classrooms and schools and their ability to support responsive
professional development for the teachers involved.8
The Work of Elementary Mathematics Specialists
The work of an elementary mathematics specialist takes many forms, including work with teachers and work with students. Work with teachers occurs one-on-one or within a grade-level team, in a space where teachers are safe to explore their teaching and deepen their understanding of mathematics content and pedagogy as well as their ability to responsively use high-quality instructional
materials. An elementary mathematics specialist develops and regularly monitors teachers’ understanding and instructional implementation. These specially prepared professionals are regularly involved in mentoring novice and experienced teachers; coaching, which often includes co-planning
and co-teaching; planning and providing professional development opportunities; and planning for and helping to maintain professional learning communities.
An elementary mathematics specialist working with students may do so as either a mathematics interventionist or a mathematics teacher for multiple groups of students. As mathematics interventionists, they provide rigorous and engaging instruction for students needing additional support or
further challenge. They may also plan for and coordinate the efforts of others providing the mathematics intervention. As an elementary mathematics teacher, an elementary mathematics specialist may share students with grade-level colleagues (e.g., teaching mathematics to all second- and third grade students, teaching mathematics and science to all fourth graders). They may also open their
classroom as a learning lab where they model effective and equitable teaching, using this as a space for learning with and from others.
Regardless of their role when elementary mathematics specialists interact with groups of teachers, they can leverage powerful professional learning techniques such as doing math together, co-planning
and co-teaching, examining student work, and analyzing video or live lessons. Doing so regularly builds continuity and maintains momentum for refining practice.9 In addition, focusing group meetings on issues of practice is crucial, such as student learning and best teaching practices.10 Elementary
mathematics specialists recognize the seemingly constant intersection of their content, pedagogical, and leadership knowledge and skills as they navigate relationships, conflicting initiatives, and their responsibilities related to improving teacher practice and student learning.11, 12
The Call to Action for Elementary Mathematics Specialists
Action must be taken to turn the recommendation of having an elementary mathematics specialist for every elementary school into reality. Educators interested in advanced elementary mathematics preparation and leadership must have both incentives to participate in and access to professional
learning opportunities and continued support. Recommended actions that should be taken by stakeholders from educators, administrators, and district leaders to teacher educators, state/province supervisors, and policymakers are presented below